SEATTLE — At a recent meeting at a church gym in Bothell, Boy Scouts in identical blue neckerchiefs and “Troop 574” patches discussed summer camp as their parents arranged carpools and cookout recipes for a weekend trip.
The boys heard rules for what to bring — no iPods — and what time to be ready for the ferry — 9 a.m.
What was not on the agenda, at least not officially: recent changes to Boy Scout policy allowing openly gay Scouts to join.
Still, the topic was unavoidable, and one cluster of boys found themselves talking about it on the sidelines.
Troop 574 is sponsored by Bothell’s evangelical Cedar Park Church, which, like some other congregations, has decided to part ways with the Boy Scouts over the policy change.
The same decision by a Roman Catholic Church in Bremerton, Our Lady Star of the Sea, has prompted an online petition by a national advocacy group, Catholics United, that views the church’s decision as discriminatory and likely to alienate young people from the faith. The group was planning to petition the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Most sponsoring churches in the Puget Sound area appear to be sticking with the Boy Scouts, some saying the new policy is consistent with their beliefs about inclusion.
But other churches — and some Scouting families — are conflicted, saying the policy forces a clash between their religious beliefs about homosexuality and their support for an organization that has served children well.
“One little rule and bghhhh,” said Troop 574 member Kyle Horne, 17, making the sound of a bomb exploding.
Scout troops typically are sponsored by churches, civic organizations and groups of parents that pay the Boy Scouts of America for charters that are renewable each year.
Faith-based organizations are the most common chartered organizations, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the United Methodist Church and the Catholic Church holding the highest numbers.
Chief Seattle Council Executive Sharon Moulds has heard murmurs of churches dropping out. Moulds has fielded phone calls from a handful of parents unhappy about the policy change.
She tries to explain that there have always been gay Scouts — the only change is now it’s out in the open. Losing Scouts saddens her, but as a mother herself she can’t tell others how to raise their kids.
“We want to keep everybody, but we’re not going to be able to,” Moulds said.
In Bremerton, Father Derek Lappe of Our Lady Star of the Sea was already considering an end to troop sponsorship when BSA voted May 23 to remove its restriction denying youths from joining solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, effective in January.
Gay Scouts wouldn’t have been an issue before the policy change, Lappe said. “We would have never kicked a kid out because of this.”
But Lappe felt he had to end the relationship with the organization after it approved a policy he believes encourages young people to come out or to identify as gay.
“To me it is cruel, and abusive and absolutely contrary to the Gospel to in any way confirm a teenager in the confusion of same-sex attraction,” Lappe wrote on the church’s website in a letter that has been viewed more than 16,000 times.
His decision promoted Catholics United to launch its online petition in protest. The organization has collected more than 5,500 signatures on a petition it prepared to present to the Archdiocese of Seattle, asking it to condemn Lappe’s action and reassert Catholic doctrine in favor of accepting gay people.
The advocacy-group’s executive director, James Salt, is concerned young people will be alienated from the faith.
“It’s a startling reminder that the Catholic Church is drifting from its long-held teachings against discrimination,” he said.
Right now it’s up to individual churches to decide to sponsor a Scout troop, and that hasn’t changed for Catholic churches, said Seattle Archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni.
“It’s still going to be a pastor’s decision based on the pastoral needs of his parish,” he said.
Boy Scout troops that lose their chartered organization must find another place willing to provide meeting rooms and adults willing to lead.
For many troops that hasn’t become an issue, as most churches so far are continuing their sponsorships.
The Latter-day Saints have stated support for the policy change, saying sexual orientation has never been a disqualifying factor to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops.
At the start of the recent meeting in Bothell, members of Troop 574 repeated the Boy Scout Oath in unison. “On my honor I will do my best.”
But after the meeting, their opinions diverged. Some families are pulling out of Boy Scouts for good. Others are looking for a new group to sponsor the troop. Some families are waiting to see what might happen when the current charter expires.
“Christianity teaches us to be inclusive,” said Scout Brett Youtsey, 15, calling Cedar Park’s decision to end the charter “completely detrimental and hypocritical.”
Scout Jimmy Shank, 14, said he wants to graduate from Scouting before next year.
“I’m trying to get Eagle as fast as I can,” he said. Tenting with an openly gay Scout would “just be uncomfortable,” he said.
Pastor Joe Fuiten opposes the membership change on moral grounds.
“We believe that homosexual acts are sinful,” Fuiten said. “Therefore we can’t allow that as an accepted part of personal behavior, and to be connected to our church.”
Fuiten lobbied the Boy Scouts to keep the policy as it was.
“There’s no reason to do this, other than caving into the left wing and the culture,” he said.
Scouting parent John Bartlow said the membership change has caused his family’s values to clash. While the Scouts learned how to carry and salute the American flag, he sat in the back of the gym and planned meals for the troop’s next trip, a Dutch oven cookbook in front of him.
Being a Scout has helped his son Joseph overcome shyness, he said. Recently the 12-year-old coordinated an award ceremony of 150 people. At the same time, Bartlow does not want to “promote the homosexual lifestyle,” he said. His wife, Rachel, is also conflicted.
“It’s so hard that a program that was so beautiful for boys has been changed into a sexual debate,” she said.
Staying or leaving the Scouts will be tough either way, and Bartlow is still praying on it.
“A Scout is brave, and that means you stand up for what you believe in,” he said.